Photo Credit: Chris Lee, courtesy of the New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic Bids Farewell to Alan Gilbert

Alan Gilbert, who has led the New York Philharmonic since 2009, will conduct his final New York performances as the orchestra’s music director with this week’s Concerts in the Parks, June 13th through 16th, plus an indoor concert in Staten Island on June 18th. Gilbert will lead the orchestra seven more times at Colorado’s Bravo! Vail Music Festival this July, but, for New Yorkers, this week will be the last chance to hear Gilbert conduct the orchestra he’s helmed for nearly a decade as its music director.

Gilbert, the son of two New York Philharmonic violinists, was appointed to the position in 2009. He had previously served as an assistant conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra from 1995 to 1997, as the Santa Fe Opera’s first music director from 2003 to 2007, and as the principal conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra from 2000 to 2008. Following in the footsteps of Leonard Bernstein, who became the first American conductor to serve as the New York Philharmonic’s music director in 1958, Gilbert was the first ever New York native to hold the position.

Photo Credit: David Finlayson, courtesy of the New York Philharmonic

His appointment, at the relatively young age of 42, was something of a departure for the orchestra, following 30 years of conservative stewardship under the consecutive batons of Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, and Lorin Maazel.

As music director, Gilbert spearheaded a number of initiatives to improve the orchestra’s increasingly stale image. He launched CONTACT!, a new music series that brought chamber and small ensemble performances out of Lincoln Center and into smaller venues around the city. He also introduced The Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence position, which birthed a host of new commissions from appointees Magnus Lindberg, Christopher Rouse, and the incumbent Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Gilbert’s efforts endeared him to the classical music community, and to the city at large. He led the orchestra through memorable stagings of Ligeti’s Le grand macabre, Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, and Wagner’s Das Rheingold; made numerous acclaimed performances on Live from Lincoln Center, including an Emmy-nominated production of Sweeney Todd; conducted the premieres for dozens of new pieces by some of the world’s leading composers, including John C. Adams, Christopher Rouse, and John Corigliano; and even made brief appearances in the New York-based television shows 30 Rock and Mozart in the Jungle.

Gilbert concluded his last subscription concert with the Philharmonic on Saturday night in a stunning performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7, followed by one of the longest standing ovations in David Geffen Hall’s recent memory.  The connection was poignant—Mahler himself directed the orchestra between 1909 and his death 1911; arguably no other conductor has had such a profound and lasting impact on the Philharmonic, or on modern orchestras altogether.

Gilbert will be succeeded this fall by the formidable Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden, who currently serves as music director for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Zweden certainly has his work cut out for him; long-overdue renovations to David Geffen Hall will leave the orchestra homeless for at least two seasons, while yearly budget deficits continue to beleaguer the institution. Whether Zweden’s leadership will continue Gilbert’s staunch support of new music remains to be seen, but, regardless of his approach, uncertain, yet exciting times lie in the orchestra’s future.

Gilbert will make a brief return next season to conduct a program of Beethoven and Weber for the ensemble’s 175th anniversary celebrations, December 6th through 9th, and will join the conductor Leonard Slatkin for the “Bernstein’s Philharmonic” in-season festival this fall. Perhaps, given his connection to the city, Gilbert will continue to make occasional appearances with the orchestra for decades to come. Still, the end of his tenure at the podium comes as a bittersweet moment for the city to which he has become such a cultural staple.

Concerts in the Parks, to be played at Van Cortlandt Park, Central Park, Cunningham Park, and Prospect Park from the 13th to the 16th respectively, will feature Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 From the New World, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and Gershwin’s An American in Paris. The orchestra’s final New York performance of the season will take place at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden in Staten Island on June 18th, featuring selections of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (arranged by Josef Triebensee), Serenade for Winds in C minor (also by Mozart), and Schubert’s Trout Quintet.  All events are free.

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